Good author, bad author…does being nice matter?
A recent post by Lois Lavrisa in The Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing* about “Author Rock Stars” got me thinking.
Authors have fans.
They have loyal readers who will buy everything they write…regardless of whether something is the author’s best work or not.
They want to literally read and own everything the author has written.
Is that because of the experience of reading it? Would all of those high school English assignments and abandoned concepts be as entertaining if the fan didn’t know who had written them?
I’m sure that’s not the case.
Why is that?
What’s the perceived relationship the fan has with the author that imbues the entire oeuvre with a golden glow?
I say “perceived relationship” because in the vast majority of cases, the fan has never met or had any sort of social exchange with the author…except through the written works.
My guess is that most people want to read all those works because of an idealized conception of the author.
Hey, I feel the same way about some fictional characters. I feel that I owe Doc Savage something. I want to support that character, and I’ll buy something even if the “Doc” item isn’t very good. That’s with someone who doesn’t even exist.
While authors “don’t exist”, don’t have an actual interplay with the readers, that sort of loyalty can be sustained.
What happens when a fan actually meets an author?
In some cases, it can strengthen the relationship…in others, it can finish it.
I’ve written before about a great interaction I had with Forry Ackerman, an editor/author I approached at a science fiction convention. No question, that brief exchange elevated “Uncle Forry” even further for me.
Those types of contact are relatively rare. Oh, it’s more common in certain genres…you can go to science fiction convention and have a pretty good chance to actually chat with one of your favorite authors. I think the same thing is true with mysteries and romances…although maybe not quite to the same degree.
In the modern e-world, though, some kind of direct contact with an author is happening a lot more often.
Frequent an online forum? An author may post there. Write an online review? the author may comment on it. Twitter, blogging, Facebook…those are all opportunities for an author to become “real” for readers.
I’ve seen many authors being…incautious about what they say in those situations.
Readers have literally millions of choices. While, in a situation like that, people might think it’s standing out that matters the most, it’s also not getting eliminated.
Potential buyers will reject you in a snap in many cases if you do one thing that justifies ignoring you.
I did some classes where I talked to job seekers about the process that employers went through in looking at (paper) resumes.
The first pass?
Rejecting as many as possible.
Hand-written? Rejected. Perfumed paper? Rejected. Any misspelling at all? Rejected.
An employer might hope to dump 90% of the resumes the first time through…without having to take the time to actually read the content.
I think the same thing may happen with author contacts.
Snarky comment? Rejected. Off topic promotion? Rejected. Not knowing the rules? Rejected.
Any attack on a reader will get you broadly rejected…even if other readers side with you.
I’ve trained trainers, and I talk about that. Students have to see themselves in (literally) the same class as other students. Let’s say a student makes an inappropriate comment. How you deal with that makes a huge difference. You may be more than capable of a witty putdown that will crush the commenter, and that may be deserved.
The other students, though, can’t miss that the trainer (in a position of authority) “punched down” to their level. They will feel some empathy…even if they think the commenter was completely out of line.
Now, if there are students, maybe two like you much better because of your clever vituperation.
You’ve lost the rest of them, though. They are afraid of you…and that makes it much harder for them to learn from you. Their focus becomes avoiding you, rather than standing with you and seeing things from your perspective.
For authors, I think it’s the same thing. Attack a reader, and other readers have to (in the most part) resent it.
If an author is a jerk, people may not even considering reading a book by that person…there are too many options.
That may be different from when book options were narrower. It may have been easier for Hemingway or Wilde…there weren’t a thousand people writing similar things.
I’m not saying those thousand are as good. It’s just that readers look for a reason to stop thinking about an author’s books as a possibility.
We could look at this as a matrix. Where is an author on the “jerk to nice” scale, where are they on the “hack to genius” scale?
Obviously, “jerk hacks” are easy to eliminate.
Also, “nice geniuses” are easy to buy.
What about “jerk geniuses” versus “nice hacks”?
Let’s move the writing scale off the extremes a bit.
Would you be more likely to read a “nice pretty good writer” over a very good writer who had personally insulted you?
I think most people would.
It’s tough to find genius works regardless…I think we tend to read a lot of “pretty good to very good” books.
What do you think? Is increased access making being nice more important for authors? Does it matter, or am I exaggerating the impact of readers’ perception of authors?
* For disclosure, I am a contributing columnist to WG2E. I am not being compensated for mentioning this article, and I was not asked to write this post for them.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.